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What Is Your California Motorcycle Accident Case Worth?

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Jeff Sevey

A motorcycle is a wonderful thing. There’s probably no other form of transportation that can give you the same rush of freedom than you get when you’re riding a motorcycle. And that’s good because California is one of the best places in the world to ride! It’s got some of the best weather in the country, which means that you can ride your motorcycle almost every day. Combine that with some top-notch scenery and tens of thousands of miles of roads - big, small, urban and rural - and you’ve got a lot of happy riders.

Unfortunately, not every ride goes as planned. There can be a lot of traffic on California roadways. All that traffic means that there are bound to be accidents. Over 11,000 California motorcycle riders were injured in traffic accidents in 2013, the last year for which statistics are available.

If you’ve been injured in a California motorcycle accident, the effect on your life can be catastrophic. You are very likely in pain. Your mobility and ability to care for yourself may be limited. You might be unable to work. You’re looking for relief and you want your life to get back to normal.

One way of obtaining financial relief from your injuries is by filing a lawsuit against the person who was responsible for causing your motorcycle accident. In this article, we’re going to take a look at some of the factors that may influence a motorcycle accident claim.

Liability vs. Damages

Personal injury law governs all injuries that arise out of motorcycle accidents. In any personal injury case, two things are important – liability and damages. Liability means responsibility for causing another person’s injuries. Therefore, in order to receive compensation for your injuries, you must first prove that someone else’s negligence caused your injuries. The person who was injured and is bringing the lawsuit always has the burden of proving liability.

Once liability has been established, then the damages caused by the negligent act must also be proven. Once again, the burden to do this is on the injured person bringing the lawsuit. Without both liability and damages, no money can be recovered for a motorcycle accident. Let’s take a look at some examples.

Let’s say you’ve slowed down to make a left-hand turn and the car behind you runs into the back of your bike. You’re thrown off and suffer significant injuries. The bike is damaged as well. It turns out that the driver of the car that hit you did not see you brake because he was looking at his phone. In this case, you would be able to establish liability because the driver who hit you did not pay attention to the road. You would also be able to collect damages because your injuries were a direct result of the driver’s negligence.

Now, let’s look at the same example with a few of the details altered. In this scenario, you’re still making a left-hand turn, but the driver who hits you looks up in time to hit his brakes. The resulting collision is minor with no injuries and no damage to your motorcycle. In this case, you would still be able to establish liability. However, you would not be able to establish damages since you suffered no harm to yourself or your bike.

Settlement vs. Judgment

When you file a lawsuit, you have two possible opportunities to recover money for your damages – settlement and judgement. Settlement is an agreement between the parties to drop the lawsuit. In exchange for dropping the suit, the injured party receives a lump sum payment from the defendant and gives the defendant a release of liability in return.

If no settlement is offered or accepted, the case proceeds to trial. If at trial, the jury finds in favor of the plaintiff, the court will enter an order memorializing the damages awarded by the jury, and requiring the defendant to pay those damages.

Because a settlement is a compromise that benefits both parties, the amount of money available is always less than what might be awarded by a jury at trial. However, even though the settlement amount is less, it is a guaranteed sum if accepted. The larger judgment award that might be available is not a guaranteed sum, since there is absolutely no way to accurately predict what a jury might do once they are sent to deliberate. This means that under some circumstances, it is more prudent to accept a lower settlement award in lieu of running the risk of getting less or no money at trial.

Specific vs. Non-Specific Damages

Once you establish liability, there are two types of damages that you are entitled to – those that can be specifically measured, and those that cannot.

Specific damages cover exact things. Things like medical bills that you incurred as a result of the injuries caused by the accident and time off of work. Specific damages also include future medical bills for treatment and vocational rehabilitation if your injuries prevent you from returning to the job that you’re accustomed to doing. Specific damages also take into account the damage to your property caused by the accident, specifically damage to your bike.

Non-specific damages are those things that can’t be easily quantified. The pain and suffering that you endured as a result of your injuries are a perfect example of non-specific damages. While non-specific damages are hard to quantify, whatever amount is awarded must be reasonable to the facts of the case. To take a famous example, 2.7 million dollars was not considered a reasonable award for burns caused by a spilled hot coffee. In any personal injury case, a jury makes an award for damages, but, should the defendant raise a reasonable objection, the court decides if that award is fair under the circumstances.

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